#9: Wild Life

by Jess Nevins

Rated PG for language

"Ooookay. So--correct me if I'm wrong, but--you want us to skrag Reynhard Heydrich. He's in charge of, what are they calling it, 'pacifying' the resistance?"

"Yes, he's--"

"So basically he'll be the most guarded man for, oh, 'bout 200 miles in every direction."

"Well, yes, but--"

"And we're just going to walk in there and shoot him, is that right?"

"No, of course not, but--"

"Captain Dunn, you can let me out here. I think I'd rather swim back."

Dunn began to laugh, then stopped as he saw that Crock wasn't joking and that Sandra didn't see the humor in Crock's words.

The Sportsmaster folded his arms and gave Sandra a coolly angry stare. "I'm serious. I didn't sign up for a suicide mission. I ain't going."

Quick enough to make everyone jump Sandra drew a slim pistol with an elongated barrel and pointed it at Crock's chest. A thin red light sprang from the gun's barrel and centered itself on Crock's heart. "Then you're gonna feed the fish, Crock. I'm authorised to kill deserters and traitors, and right now you're one or the other or both. This is war. You don't fight, I execute you."

Dunn was the first to recover. "Uh...Sandra...why don't you put that away and we can talk about this?"

"No. There's nothing to talk about. He does it or I shoot him now."

Cosmo said, "Sandra, this isn't--"

"Shaddup. In or out, Crock?"

Crock looked at Sandra, then at the King and Cosmo. Cosmo made a motion with his head and mouthed two words. Crock, reading them, frowned and finally shrugged. "Awright, awright. I'm in."

She kept the gun on him a moment longer, then tucked it away in her sleeve holster. "I doubt you for a moment, or you try to do anything funny, I'll leave you for the rats or the Gestapo. Got it?"

"Yeah, yeah, I"m scared, already."

The King said, "So...what's the plan?"

Sandra disappeared into the sleeping cabin and reappeared with a sealed courier's bag. She broke the seal and unfolded the papers inside on to the map table in the pilot's cabin. Dunn had Boomerang take the controls of the Blue Tracer and joined King, Cosmo, and Crock around the table.

She pointed first to a map of Czechoslovakia, indicating the northern part of the country. "This is where Heydrich's main concerns are. He's in charge of the Balkans, but he concentrates a lot of his time and efforts here. Now--" She shuffled the maps and produced a smaller map of the area within 100 miles of Prague. She pointed at various spots on the map, already marked in Xs with a grease pencil. "These are some of the murder camps where he's been slaughtering civilians." She looked up at the faces of the others. All resentment towards her and the mission had momentarily gone, and they looked grim; even the King, who had an ever-present smile on his face, looked somber. Only Crock appeared untouched by her words.

"Thousands of civilians," Sandra continued. "He's been using these camps as his headquarters, moving from one to another to avoid the resistance, but we've gotten word that--"

"From whom?" Crock's voice sounded harsh in the cabin.

"Beg pardon?"

"Who did you hear this from?" I wanna know if what you're telling me is reliable or not?"

"Need to know, Crock, and you don't need to--"

King raised one hand, and Crock and Sandra both looked at him. He gave Sandra a level look and said, "Mr. Crock has a point. We're going to be risking our lives based on what you tell us. I think we're entitled to know its provenance."

She frowned as he spoke and opened her mouth to object, but seeing Cosmo nod at the King's words said nothing. She looked at Dunn for help. He shook his head. "I hate this spook crap. They're right."

She swore. "Okay, dammit. We have someone inside SS headquarters."

Crock said, "I've been through this before." He changed his voice to a falsetto."'Hey, Crushah, I know a guy at police hq what can get us inside the ahmory.'"

The King softly snorted his amusement. He looked at Sandra. "Is this source of yours reliable?"

Her face flushed and her mouth tightened to an angry line. "Yes, goddammit! We've used him several times before! Look, I'm going with you, too--I'm not going to risk my own skin on a suicide run."

Cosmo looked at Crock. "Reliable, she says." He didn't bother to hide his irritation.

Sandra slapped the map table. "Goddammit, listen to me! This is as solid a piece of information as we've had in months! We've already check it out! We have to do this, and we're going to. End of discussion."

The King, Cosmo, Crock and Dunn looked at each other. After a series of sighs and shrugs they looked back at the maps. Crock said, "Alright, okay. You've got word that what?"

Sandra glared at the quartet and muttered, "Men." In a more normal voice she said, "We've gotten word that Heydrich will be in Prague on the 24th." She stopped and looked expectantly at the four, who looked back at her, waiting. Finally Cosmo said, "That's your plan?"

Sandra said, "Yes, but--"

Crock, incredulity showing on his face and in his voice, said, "We'll just waltz in and kill him? Just like that?"

"No, of course not, but--"

King said, softly, "Sandra, do you know just how large Prague is?"

"Goddammit, stop interrupting me!"

"My apologies. But do you?"

Sandra visibly  made an effort to control herself, and succeeded. "As it happens, no, but we'll link with our contact, and he'll give us Heydrich's travel information and schedule."

Cosmo brightened. "So we'll be meeting this contact of yours?"

Sandra reluctantly nodded. "Yes. We'll liaise with two of our men in the resistance. One of them is our contact."

King said, "And these men are?"

Crock said, "Look at her. She's gonna give us that 'Need To Know' crap again."

Sandra pouted, then reluctantly smiled. “I was thinking about it...but no. At least, I can tell you their codenames. Their real names won’t mean anything to you, anyhow. They’re called ‘Guerrilla–‘”

“Oh, that’s original.”

“–‘GUERRILLA’ and ‘Marksman.’”

The King, who had been closely examining a street map of Prague, started at the  latter name. His head jerked around and he gave Sandra a searching stare. “‘Marksman’? The Marksman?”

Sandra’s brow furrowed. “How do you know about him?”

“You aren’t the only one with contacts, Sandra.” He turned to the others. “If the Marksman is our contact, I’m suddenly a lot more comfortable with this mission. Did any of you hear about the ambush, back in January, at the Paris airfield? Some SS types were getting ready to fly to Malta when someone attacked their plane. What I was told was that fifteen of the SS ended up dead with arrows in them, and the attacker, someone named the Marksman, got away clean. Seems he’s been very active behind enemy lines. Favors a bow and arrow, and is lethal with it.”

Sandra said, “I can’t confirm that, but I will say that he’s very capable.”

Boomerang’s voice rang out from the cockpit. “Almost at the meet site, Bill.”

Sandra nodded. “Right,” she said, loudly enough for the Australian to hear. “Park it here, on the bottom of the river. We’re not going to hook up until midnight, so you might as well get comfortable.”

She began folding the maps. “Get your kits packed and ready to go. Crock, can you carry all your equipment at a run?” He paused, then slowly nodded. She said, “Not good enough. Give what you can’t carry to me and King and Cosmo. Captain Dunn is staying here. I don’t think so, but we may have to leave in a hurry, and I don’t want you slowed down.” As the others began making their way back to their bunks, she produced a deck of cards from her jeans pocket and began shuffling. “And then I’ll show you boys how to play poker.” Her words produced sly anticipatory grins.

Several hours later the slow-moving waters of the Vlatava were briefly upset as a head slowly emerged from the river’s surface.

Crock briefly scanned the scene, then submerged and swam to the river’s edge. He silently pulled himself up on to the stone walkway lining the river, and padded forward on bare, dripping feet, a long curved knife held in a fighter’s position. Before he took four steps, however, one of the two figures he was approaching spun around, Luger in hand, and said, in German, “<Thesis.>”

Crock was impressed despite himself. The man could not have seen Crock leave the river, and Crusher knew how quietly he moved. Yet the man had known he was there anyhow. “<Antithesis.>”

“<Synthesis.>” The man holstered his Luger and with his companion dashed forward. They had been waiting on one of the viewing stands overlooking the river, and moved quickly to reach Crock, who was crouched in the shadows of one of the stone supports overlooking the walkway and buttressing the road a level up from the walkway.

The taller of the pair was a large, gaunt man in an German Army Major’s uniform. His face was lined and pale, and his mustache and hair flecked with white, lending him the appearance of someone aged beyond his years. His eyes were flat and cold, his hands completely steady. He carried himself with a self-conscious dignity quite out of place on the banks of the Vlatava at midnight.

His companion was shorter and wore worker’s overalls and a simple cloth cap. He was thin, wiry rather than scrawny, but still badly underfed, and he had obviously not bathed for some time. The illusion of his being a working class Czech was spoiled, to the Sportsmaster’s experienced eye, by two things.

The first was the man’s look. Although his stance was relaxed and his large, dirty, scarred hands hung casually by his sides, and his face was carefully composed into a placid and unconcerned expression, his eyes and something about his carriage rang very recognizable to Crock. This was a hunted man, living on the run and poised to fight or flee at any moment. That was a feeling very familiar to Crock.

The second thing were the weapons the man carried. Crock, very experienced at quick, visual searches–his life had often depended on it–picked out three hand guns and a long knife, all hidden beneath the man’s clothes but within easy reach.

The Major said, “I’m Marksman, and this is Guerrilla. You are...?” His English was heavily accented, a mixture of British and something that Crock, who had traveled widely while training for and competing in various Olympics, recognised after a few moments as Polish.

“Call me Crusher.”

A sound made the three of them turn and reach for their weapons. Approaching them from farther down the walkway was a prostitute. She held a Luger on them with her right hand. With her left hand she held out what even Crock knew was an SS badge.

Author's Notes

See my notes at the end of this story arc.

Next issue: Complications

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